Fayette County

State moving workforce training contract to Louisville providers

The Bluegrass Area Development District building 699 Perimeter Drive in Lexington.
The Bluegrass Area Development District building 699 Perimeter Drive in Lexington. Herald-Leader

State workforce officials have selected two Louisville-based providers to oversee federal workforce training for more than 12,000 people in Central Kentucky beginning July 1.

Kentuckiana Works, a longtime workforce training provider in the Louisville area, will be the fiscal agent and manage Central Kentucky’s federal workforce dollars. ResCare, which provides job training, has been tapped to provide day-to-day services, including connecting out-of-work people with job-training programs.

Beth Kuhn, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Workforce Investment, said the state is working to ensure that services to more than 12,000 unemployed and underemployed people in 17 counties, including Fayette County, will not be disrupted come July 1.

“We don’t want any disruption of services to occur,” Kuhn said. “In addition to Kentuckiana Works and ResCare, we are going to have a whole team of people working on this. It’s all about providing good customer service.”

Both Kentuckiana Works and ResCare will be temporary providers of workforce training until Dec. 31. Then a bid for the area’s workforce services will be issued. The move to the two Louisville-based providers was prompted after the state opted to discontinue its longtime contract with Bluegrass Area Development District because of lingering financial oversight problems at the district.

Bluegrass’s current contract expires June 30.

Kuhn said it’s the state and ResCare’s hope to hire all Bluegrass employees for its workforce development division. The financial oversight problems were not the fault of those front-line employees, she said. Kuhn said 24 people work full- or part-time on workforce training at Bluegrass.

“It is our priority and our intention that any employee that interviews with ResCare will stay on,” Kuhn said.

Unemployment insurance will not be affected by the switch to Kentuckiana Works and ResCare. Unemployment is handled by the state.

A group of locally elected officials that selects the fiscal agent for federal workforce dollars met Tuesday and 13 of them voted to appeal the governor’s decision to the U.S. Department of Labor. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray cast the only no vote, saying that he preferred to work toward a compromise.

Gray said issues raised in the Bevin’s letter were “compelling,” and an appeal “just prolongs the misery.”

Garrard County Judge Executive John Wilson said the officials had attempted compromise with a letter to the governor’s office that was ignored.

“I’m going to vote yes on this matter because I think it will buy us some time,” Wilson said. “These services are too important to just throw to the wind.”

Gray also opposed a subsequent vote to allow attorneys to litigate if the governor’s office decides to ignore the appeal.

The scene was replayed at a later meeting of the Bluegrass executive committee, where board members voted to appeal with one no vote from Gray.

Bluegrass has 30 days to appeal the state’s decision to the U.S. Department of Labor, which has ultimate say over federal workforce dollars.

Attorney Jon Gay said the appeal would probably cost between $35,000 and $40,000. If the case had to be litigated, it would cost another $40,000.

“We stand ready to compromise and come to terms on this,” said Boyle County Judge Executive Harold McKinney. “I want to formally say, we’re sticking our hand out.”

The move to discontinue using Bluegrass as the agent for workforce dollars came after the cabinet ordered Bluegrass on March 31 to repay the state $898,525 — money the state says was misspent from 2010 and 2013. Some of those questioned costs include excessive travel and rent for Bluegrass’s Perimeter Drive building. The money was paid to a nonprofit started by the founding director of Bluegrass.

The Bluegrass board voted to appeal the final determination and maintained that problems cited in the state’s final determination letter had been corrected. The board also said its private auditors had not found any problems at the district.

In late May, Gov. Matt Bevin sent Bluegrass a letter saying the Education and Workforce Cabinet still had concerns about financial management of the district. A review of 2015 spending by cabinet staff revealed other questions about how those federal workforce dollars were being spent. The Kentucky Department of Workforce Investment is part of the Education and Workforce Cabinet.

A new workforce contract will be bid before the temporary contract expired on Dec. 31. Bluegrass is barred from bidding on the new contract.

Bluegrass’ current contract ends June 30. It was awarded a new contract in January to continue to provide services until Sept. 30, 2017. That contract was for $11.4 million, which included some carry-over dollars from previous years.

Kuhn said even if the locally elected officials and the executive committee of Bluegrass decide to appeal the state’s decision, Kentuckiana Works and ResCare will continue as temporary providers. To switch providers would cause further problems, she said.

“Our priority is no to disrupt services,” Kuhn said.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall